Serving in loco parentis
The freshman dean's office expects a total of 1617 freshmen to move into Harvard Yard in the next few weeks, but there will actually be 1618 new faces toting plants, wall-hangings and other odds and ends into their assigned rooms. The on addition is Henry C. Moses, newly-appointed dean of freshmen, who will serve in loco parentis for this year's freshman class from his office in the corner of University Hall, in the center of Harvard Yard.
Moses, a soft-spoken, clean-shaven man in his mid-thirties, left a position as vice-president for student development at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York to assume the post here, which was left vacant by the retirement of long-time Freshman Dean F. Skiddy von Stade '38.
The difference between the two men, in role, approach, background and personality illustrates the new, more clearly defined structure of the College administration. Whereas von Stade, who served as freshman dean for 24 years, is perhaps best if unfairly remembered for his Great-Gatsbyesque style, an association with horsemanship and polo ponies, and an old-school style of administration, Moses was not born and reared in the Harvard tradition.
Brought up in New Rochelle, New York, Moses attended New Rochelle High School ("I always went to bed at 10, and I never ate french fries," he recalls). And although he attended Princeton as an undergraduate and went on to receive a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Cornell, he openly admits, "No one's made me feel like an outsider, though I obviously am." Nonetheless, Moses is also quick to admit he doesn't "have problems with certain kinds of elitism--putting together the best people, based on talent and merit. But elitism based on connections, and on the label on the back of a tie, is foolish," he says.
Perhaps the most salient difference between the traditional von Stade role and that which Moses is likely to assume is in the relationship between the Freshman Dean's Office and the rest of University Hall. As John B. Fox Jr. '59, dean of the College, describes the relationship, "Impressionistically, it is true the dean was a somewhat autonomous character who was more a colleague than an employee of the dean of the College." But when Henry Rosovsky, dean of the Faculty, asked Fox to create a more structured environment within the College administration, Fox moved to place the freshman dean directly under him.
"But I stuck with the title of dean of freshmen--I felt it was necessary to have someone clearly charged with the welfare of freshmen--to stick up to them," Fox says. Fox and Moses agree that in day-to-day affairs the office will for the most part be autonomous. Moses, who in his few days in Cambridge appears to have talked to as many diverse people as possible, eager to learn as much as possible about absolutely any aspect of Harvard, explains that he has never worked in isolation from his colleagues and does not plan to do so now. In addition, he says he has been told that Fox's approach "involves lots of walking back and forth between offices and lots of consultation," and he has no objection to that interaction either.
Seated in his still unfamiliar office, Moses' grey eyes sparkle as he describes plans for arranging the room--hanging plants, getting a round coffee table "so people can put their feet up," hanging a picture of Daniel Webster (Why? "He's the greatest face I have at home.")--but his excitement barely approaches that which he expresses when he describes his ideas for the freshman class.
It is no exaggeration to say that Moses clearly loves the prospect of his job and the challenge of taking on 1600 students every year. Describing school administration as something he has wanted to do "almost from the beginning," Moses explains that since his days as a graduate student at Cornell, where he later became involved in the admissions office, he has maintained the "double ideal of teaching and deaning."
Moses has no qualms about being a college administrator, a job today laden with an adversary image difficult to dispel, explaining that when he started thinking about being a dean, "no one used the term 'The Administration'--deans were individual people, not members of a party--I liked the work the best of them did. Then the late '60s and early '70s came along and 'The Administration' was the other party. But it was too late for me."
Concerning his specific deanship, the new appointee sees his task as one of promoting coherence and a sense of unity among the freshman class, primarily through the serious training of proctors and senior advisers, and increasing the availability of the Freshman Dean's Office itself. He identifies the freshman advising scheme, a perennial can of worms, as one that is "centralized and decentralized at once," in which many students are unaware that the Freshman Dean's Office exists as a source of advice and support for freshman. To many freshmen, the office has been simply a group of faces, sometimes smiling, sometimes not, handing out grades--that was it.
For this reason, Moses thinks one of his most important responsibilities is to be highly visible. Fox decided this year to establish the freshman deanship more in the style of House masters--the top men and women in the upperclass Houses who presumably are responsible for the well-being of all the House residents. As a result, Moses and his family now live in a rambling old University house on nearby Francis Ave., the same house Hale Champion, former financial vice-president of the University and now undersecretary of HEW, lived in while he was here, and where Moses hopes to be able to entertain students. Within a couple of years, the University plans to sport an on-campus freshmen dean's residence--after the Prince House, which is now the General Education Office, is packed up and moved down the block and "bolted down," Moses adds--to reinforce his image as something more than a nine-to-five administrator.
In the meantime, Moses has several specific plans for the class, aimed at age-old problems of freshman isolation and alienation. He would like to try several one-shot projects "that haven't been done in a long time or at all," such as organizing a freshman class marathon sometime this fall followed by a bluegrass concert and a picnic. At Manhattanville, Moses was largely responsible for injecting a sense of activity and celebration into the college atmosphere, initiating an athletic program and social organizations and, while he says he left there in part in search of a more academically-oriented post, he brings with him many ideas for extra-curricular activities. For example, Moses spent 23 days this summer on an outward-bound program in North Carolina, and he has been considering possible applications to the Harvard environment, such as to freshman week or the training of proctors to increase the sense of group spirit and dynamics.
Moses and Fox agree on the need for a balance between academic and social emphases in the freshman dean's schedule. Moses says he views the job as a combined role of dean of student life and dean of activities. Fox says of the job, "It's very important for any administrator to be very sensitive to academic affairs--that is what people came here for. But the curriculum is clearly the responsibility of the Faculty, and it's not appropriate for those of us who don't have academic appointments to be setting policy--we have to go down the middle path--the freshman dean is not here just to hold parties on Friday afternoons, either."
Whereas the ratio of men to women in Harvard Yard has for the past few years been close to 3:1, this year, with all freshmen housed there, it will be just below 2:1. Nevertheless, that first year is often a difficult one for women, who at times find themselves overwhelmed by the numbers of men. While Moses says he considers the freshman class a single unit of about 1600 students, and not one divided by sex, he does not foresee any particular problems in dealing with the women's situation. After all, he points out, in his four years as an administrator at Manhattanville, he worked with 800 students each year, 80 per cent of whom were women (not too long ago that figure was 100 per cent). "In that time, I learned about women in colleges, how they feel and what they think," he says.
Moses, who repairs and refurnishes antique furniture in his spare time, and who describes himself as "a fanatical and completely indiscriminating reader" ("As a graduate student I used to have some notion of what was acceptable--now anything that has sentences in it has potential use for a teacher of writing") speaks with obvious fondness of his experience at Manhattanville. Asked to recall his "best memories," he mentions eating breakfast in the school dining room, reading and talking with students as they drifted in. "Or I'd be in my office late at night working and people who saw my light on would come in an keep me from doing anything productive for hours--I loved those quiet hours..." he remembers. He mentions afternoon bicycle rides, tough meetings and even a student strike, "where people came out better friends than they were before."
But despite the memories, Moses says he is glad to be at Harvard, explaining that he believes student life deans should make changes every four to five years--"otherwise they get burned out."
Fox says he has not instructed Moses to work in any specific areas, so beyond counseling and such bothersome questions as how to alleviate overcrowding in the Freshman Union (the freshman eating facility), it is not clear in which areas Moses will choose to concentrate his efforts. He foresees difficulties in this year's newly-instituted separate freshman class (in the past, a percentage of freshmen have lived at the Radcliffe Quad's four-year Houses, and freshmen in the Yard were forced to eat at the upperclass Houses when the Union used to be closed on weekends), but nevertheless he thinks the idea makes sense.
"There are obvious drawbacks--such as the difficulty of contacts with upperclassmen--but to get to know a large number of people who are having similar experiences, to compare notes on backgrounds, to share pride in a new experience" makes the new plan worthwhile, he says. As a result, the freshman dean will this year have the added responsibility of promoting a sense of belonging within the overall College community, as he himself acquires that same sense within him.
As 1617 nervous newcomers make their way into Harvard Yard in the next two or three weeks, there will be one there already, waiting to meet them, who is still as much an outsider as they. But that one is excited more than fearful, for while he admits the disadvantage of his position "is a kind of ignorance," he readily adds, "but the advantage is a kind of happy ignorance." The others, perhaps, should see it that way, too.